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When public history was imported from the United States to China around the turn of the twenty-first century, it was introduced as a sub-field within history, and has developed along that path ever since. Professional historians in China, even some forward-looking ones, see public history as merely presenting a change in the patterns of participation in history-making. This book offers a sharply different view.
It contends, essentially, that public history represents more than a research domain within history or within any existing discipline, nor does it fit into any established narratives, but rather, a fundamental change of the entire process of history-making in China. In this process, the public is prosuming history. Public history makes obsolete the old structure for building and acquiring historical knowledge: it challenges the old assumptions, supersedes the rigid academic hierarchy, and stirs the imaginations of the multitudes. With an assemblage of case studies, this work makes a case for a system view of public history making, or public history(ing), and launches a concept, complex public history, i.e. public history(ing) as complex adaptive systems.
Na Li is a public historian and urban planning scholar. Her research focuses on public history and urban preservation. During her decade-long work in China, Na Li has pioneered the field of public history in China. She was appointed Research Fellow/Professor at Department of History, Zhejiang University (2017–2022), and the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, Chongqing University (2012–2017). She is Founding Editor for Public History: A National Journal of Public History (《公众史学》). She served on the Board of Directors for the National Council on Public History (2017–2020) and has written two books, Kensington Market: Collective Memory, Public History, and Toronto’s Urban Landscape (University of Toronto Press, 2015) and Public History: A Critical Introduction (Peking University Press, 2019), which focus on public history and urban preservation. She is Associated Researcher, Faculty Center for Transdisciplinary Historical and Cultural Studies, University of Vienna.
“Na Li offers an indispensable guide to the varieties of personal and public history practiced in contemporary China, from oral and family histories to museum exhibits and video games. While focused on China, her explorations of the psychological and political dimensions of public history, and the disappearing line between history's producers and consumers, hold important insights for historians in other nations.” – David Glassberg, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, author of Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life.
“Change is afoot in public history – from a top down dissemination of specialized knowledge to a user-generated practice of meaning-making. Na Li’s energetic survey-cum-critique Seeing History: Public History in China well illustrates this shift. Her passion for popular history making is palpable; her notion of public history as a verb, ‘history-ing’ captures well the dynamic at play. Overall Seeing History is a useful addition to a growing body of work detailing public history's international reach.” – Linda Shopes, independent scholar of oral and public history
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